Just Passing Through

Marshal Matt Dillon

I grew up watching westerns on a black-and-white television, including Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Wagon Train, The Rifleman, High Chaparral, Rawhide and Big Valley—to name just a few.

Often, the good guys were passing through some place when the bad guys would cause trouble, pick a fight, set an ambush or shoot someone. The good guys weren’t looking for trouble, but if it came their way, they’d face it head-on.

Trouble clobbered the good guys while they were herding cattle on long drives. Chasing stallions through narrow canyons. Riding shotgun on top of stagecoaches. Leading wagon trains across the open prairie. Mending fences on sprawling ranches.

As followers of Jesus, we’re “just passing through”, too. This earth isn’t our home. We’re headed elsewhere. We’re on a journey. One day, we’ll leave this planet for a better place.

That’s why Paul urges us to stay focused on our eternal home. He writes, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). With great anticipation, we’re watching and waiting for Jesus’ return.

Until that day, we’re pilgrims sailing to a new land. Nomads caravanning through a parched desert. Sojourners traveling on a long trip. Citizens belonging to another kingdom.

That’s why Peter exhorts us to think differently and live distinctly in a world of dark depravity. He writes, “I urge you, as aliens and strangers in this world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

We’re called to live as holy people who speak what’s true—when nobody else does. We’re called as holy people to stand for what’s right—when it’s unpopular, risky and inconvenient.

The martyred missionary C.T. Studd wrote, “Only one life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” He believed that what we say and do for Christ has enduring value forever.

That’s the essence of living with an eternal perspective and focusing on what really matters—and that’s why we live to exalt our King and influence others.

So, why is it so difficult to think and live that way?

In a nutshell, we think far too much of this life and far too little about eternity. We get distracted by lesser things and grow indifferent to more important things.

That’s why we must tweak our perspective, reset our priorities and focus our eyes to see and follow Jesus, our Savior and King. That’s why we must think like pilgrims and live like nomads, being confident that we’re just passing through to our eternal home.

That’s also how more of today’s minutes will count for eternity!

Struggling Slugger

Babe Ruth

Legendary slugger George Herman “Babe” Ruth—who hit 714 career homeruns and held that record for 50 years—was jeered by fans near the end of his amazing career.

Babe Ruth’s long-time fans celebrated his exploits as a New York Yankee—but in 1935, their loud applause turned into fickle catcalls, as they booed the living legend who’d clobbered twice as many homers as anyone else in baseball.

But why? They booed Babe Ruth—affectionately nicknamed “The Sultan of Swat”—because he bungled several routine fly balls in the outfield and struck out every time he stepped up to the plate during one of his final ballgames at Yankee Stadium.

But, as the fans’ jeering got louder and louder, a little boy jumped over the railing onto the ball field. With crocodile tears streaming down his face, he ran across the outfield grass and threw his arms around the legs of his struggling hero.

With a big grin, Babe Ruth reached down and picked up the boy—and hugged him tight. After a while, as the stunned crowd watched from the bleachers, Ruth gently lowered the boy to the ground, patted him on the head and took his hand. Then, they walked together to the dugout.

The jeers turned into cheers and then tears, as the crowd watched “The Bambino” and the boy saunter toward the dugout. They were moved by the boy’s bold admiration and action.

The fans knew Babe Ruth struggled as a drinking man and an aging athlete—and they ridiculed him for it. But one brave boy remembered Babe Ruth for who he was—a living legend wearing a New York Yankees uniform—and covered his glaring errors with grace and love.

That boy’s split-second decision to overlook and forgive his hero’s shortcomings illustrates what the apostle Peter—who repeatedly denied his Savior—learned and wrote, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

As followers of Jesus, we’re called to love people with authenticity and intensity—and when appropriate—cover their sins and shortcomings. That brand of love and protection is rare and often misunderstood today, but the Scriptures say it’s a top priority for every believer.

That’s why we should graciously and humbly say to our fellow strugglers:

“I know you’ve failed and disappointed God and me (as I have you), but I’m still going to put my arm around you and say, ‘I love you.’ Remember, we’re struggling on this journey together—and I need God’s grace and your covering—just as much as you need mine.”

The apostle Paul wrote these words to his co-strugglers, “Love is patient … always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4,7-8).

Knowing that, let’s reach out and love struggling people. Let’s stand and identify with them—and “cover” them with grace, love and forgiveness, just as Jesus covers us!

 

No More Mashed Peas

Riding on Dad's Shoulders 1956

I enjoy eating great food!

Santa Maria tri-tip and Alaskan king salmon. Grilled veggies. Beef tacos and bean burritos. Big cheeseburgers and strawberry shakes. Spicy chicken sandwiches and sweet potato fries.

No more gumming Gerber’s baby food. No more slurping milk from a bottle. No more sitting in the high chair. No more being spoon-fed. No more settling for mashed peas.

For a few months, I drank and ate like a baby. But one day, I stopped spooning and gumming my Gerber’s. I started chomping and chewing with my teeth. I got an appetite for all kinds of good food—and a lot of it. As I grew into adolescence, I ate more frequently and ravenously!

As followers of Jesus, our heavenly Father expects us to mature and eat like grown-ups, not babies—personally, spiritually and Biblically. He wants us to enjoy and feast on his Word.

We start out as spiritual babies. During our infancy, we desire and drink the milk of the Word, as we grow in Christ. Then one day, we ditch our bottles, retire our spoons, and wield our forks.

That’s why Peter wrote, “Like newborn babes, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (2 Peter 2:2). From the get-go, our life goal is to mature in Christ, and to become spiritual adults.

To grow up spiritually and Biblically, we must discover how to feast on the Scriptures. We must stop spooning pureed pork chops, and start chewing Biblical beef steaks.

As we grow steadily, God invites us to devour his Word. Explore it. Study it. Figure it out. Feast on it. God expects us to learn how to feed ourselves—and to stop relying on others.

The apostle Paul encouraged young Timothy—and all of us: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). That’s a clear call for us to diligently study the Scriptures.

In a nutshell, we must look, listen and learn. We must handle or “cut straight” the Word if we want to accurately understand and share what it says. That’s also how we bulk up as believers, and “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior” (2 Peter 3:18).

My friend Richard taught and lived out this principle: “No Bible, no breakfast.”

Only the Scriptures can nourish and strengthen our souls, fuel us to think and live Biblically, and equip us to serve our Savior and love people in a spiritually starved world.

So then, let’s crave and enjoy a hearty diet of God’s Word today. Let’s feast on the Scriptures—and grow strong and tall in Christ!

Sticks and Stones

Words

I grew up hearing, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me.” Yeah, right! Words can hurt like crazy.

As children and adolescents, we hurled belittling words at our verbal opponents, hoping to silence and stop them. We repeated them to convince the bully—and ourselves—that his mean, hateful words didn’t hurt. But we weren’t fooling anyone.

Back then, I knew that popular catchphrase wasn’t really true—and deep down, I knew it didn’t work because I never felt any different after saying it.

When some ornery boy or girl spoke harshly or hurtfully, I often felt hurt on the inside—and that emotional pain would linger for a while—and if it was agitated or intensified—that pain could last for a long time.

Today, I believe words hurt and hinder—or heal and help. There’s no neutral, in-between zone.

But sadly, many children and adults think it’s okay to say mean, hateful and vicious things to others. They think it’s okay to intentionally inflict pain and suffering.

More than ever, I’m convinced that hurtful words lodge awful junk inside our hearts—temporarily or indefinitely. I believe emotional debris results from these attacks. Frustration. Anger. Pain. Sadness. Loneliness. Rejection. Self-consciousness. That’s just for starters.

When we choose to say hurtful words to others, we’re like a bull in a china shop. Our words frighten, intimidate and shatter people. When we choose to say malicious words to others, we’re like a warrior wielding a sharp sword. Our words cut, slash and assassinate people.

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:19). “The tongue has the power of life and death.” (Proverbs 18:21). That’s why rash words are so dangerous. They damage and destroy. They’re life-threatening, not life-giving.

Clearly, it’s always wrong to say hurtful words—and it’s always right to say helpful words.

So—how can we keep from saying hurtful words?  Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up.”

We can guard our thoughts and filter our words by following these four principles:  (1) Think before you speak; (2) Evaluate what’s on your mind before it escapes your mouth; (3) Refuse to say rotten words; and (4) Choose to say only words that encourage and strengthen others.

I like what David prayed long ago, “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3). He understand the importance of praying and relying on God.

That’s why I’m going to control my mouth—and if necessary, lock it!

 

 

Gone Wacky and Wild

Way Cool Dog

In high school—way back in the 70’s—I’m sure I wore “rad threads”, walked with a “boss” swagger, spoke “way cool” lingo and did “far out” things with “groovy” people. I “flipped out” when I really liked something. I enjoyed “kicking back”. I “dug” living and being me.

Yeah, I was one “cool cat” and a “hip dude”—with a nonchalant attitude!

Fast-forward 40 years. The somewhat sane world of yesterday has gone wacky and wild.

Today, we live in a confused culture that rejects and opposes absolute truth, seeing it as rigid, archaic and foolish. It attacks and challenges the Bible, saying it’s just an old-fashioned book, full of blatant errors, strange contradictions and pious platitudes.

We’re hit over the head with warped values and weird thinking. What once was wrong is right, and what once was repulsive is popular.

More than ever, truth is relative. Evil is good. Integrity is rare. God is gone.

Students can’t pray at school. Rebellion isn’t bad. Sins are just bad mistakes. Adultery is just an affair. Fornication is just a one-night stand. Homosexuals and lesbians are gay. Men and women swap partners and switch genders. Demons are sought-after spirit guides.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Our world system is far more deceived and depraved.

Long ago, Abraham faced mega-depravity. The Bible says, “The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion” (Jude 1:7).

These cities were so perverse that Abraham’s nephew Lot couldn’t find even ten righteous people. Because of their depravity, God destroyed everyone, except for Lot who just barely escaped with his resistant wife and family.

Much later, when judges ruled and rescued the Israelites from evil oppressors, the Bible says, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25). Evil ran rampant.

Centuries later, Paul wrote, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is … no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10-12, 23).

Struggling with his own sin, Paul declared, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-25).

Only Jesus can rescue us from the powerful clutches of depravity and sin. Only Jesus can redeem us from the vice grips of rebellion and compromise. Is he your Savior?